Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (2023)

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  1. What is secondhand vapor?
  2. What's in secondhand vapor?
  3. Is secondhand vapor dangerous?

Because e-cigarettes have only been available in the United States and Europe for a little over a decade, we don’t fully understand the long-term effects of vaping on users.

However, we do know enough about the likely health risks of vaping—based on the safety profiles of the chemicals involved—to understand that vaping almost certainly doesn’t pose risks to users as great as those of combustible cigarettes.

We may actually know more about the risks to bystanders than to vapers themselves. Based on standards for workplace exposure to inhaled chemicals and metals, scientists can estimate whether the toxic constituents present in “secondhand vapor” might make vaping harmful to “accidental vapers.”

So far, there’s no evidence that secondhand (or passive) vaping is a serious threat to the health of non-vaping bystanders.

What is secondhand vapor?

Secondhand vapor (which is technically an aerosol) is the vapor exhaled into the atmosphere by an e-cig user. Like secondhand smoke, it lingers in the air long enough that anyone in the same room (assuming the room is small enough) is likely to inhale some of the exhaled aerosol. As the name indicates, the bystanders are not inhaling secondhand (or passive) smoke—because secondhand e-cigarette vapor simply isn’t smoke.

Smoke is a product of combustion. Burning any substance with fire—including wood, leaves, a building, or any plant material, including tobacco—produces volatile gasses, carcinogenic solid particles, carbon monoxide, and a mixture of dangerous byproducts that in cigarette smoke is called tar. Secondhand smoke isn’t as dangerous as inhaling directly from a cigarette, but regular and prolonged exposure to it is considered a serious hazard.

E-cigs heat e-liquid with a small metal coil housed in an atomizer, and the heat turns the e-juice into the vapor you see. E-cigarette vapor doesn’t have any carbon monoxide or tar, and the particles in the aerosol are liquid rather than solid. Dangerous chemicals and metals are found in vapor, but only in tiny quantities. The levels of toxicants are minute compared to those found in smoke, which means the dangers of secondhand vaping are less significant.

What’s in secondhand vapor?

If you encounter people vaping inside a house, all of the secondhand vapor you see comes out of the mouths of the vapers in the room. There is no side stream “vape smoke” like there is side stream tobacco smoke from cigarettes—no constant emission of vapor pouring from the device when it’s not being used. The user has to inhale to produce vapor. And by the time the vaper exhales, the vapor contains much less of all the substances that were in the inhaled vapor, because most of it is absorbed by the user’s mouth, throat and lungs. There simply aren’t enough of the already-scarce toxicants left over to make secondhand vapor a concern.

Aside from propylene glycol and glycerin (PG and VG)—the two glycols that make up the base of virtually all e-liquids—what vapers exhale into the air doesn’t contain high levels of anything. According to Drexel University toxicologist Igor Burstyn, while the contents of e-cig vapor inhaled by users “justifies surveillance,” there is so little contamination in exhaled vapor that there is unlikely to be any risk for bystanders.

What isn’t inhaled falls to the ground quite rapidly. Those concerned with “thirdhand nicotine”—the unabsorbed nicotine that lands on floors and furniture—might make a case for not vaping around kids or pets who might lick the surfaces. But there’s not much nicotine left in the settled residue. According to a 2016 University of California-San Francisco study, 93.8 percent of the inhaled nicotine is retained by the user, and is not part of the exhaled vapor.

Even if secondhand vaping can’t be proven harmful to others, the concerns of family and friends need to be respected.

“Nicotine from exhaled vapour can be deposited on surfaces, but at such low levels that there is no plausible mechanism by which such deposits could enter the body at doses that would cause physical harm,” Royal College of Physicians researchers noted in that organization’s comprehensive 2016 review of e-cigarette science.

Particles from vaping, which are liquid rather than solid like smoke particles, don’t seem to affect air quality at all. In a 2017 University of California-San Diego study that analyzed the air in 193 low-income family homes, the researchers found that smoking tobacco or marijuana, cooking, and burning candles all affected particle counts in the homes. But vaping (which was being done in 43 of the homes) had no measurable effect on the indoor air quality.

Even studies of the air in vape shops have shown that levels of toxicants are below occupational exposure limits. In fact, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH—a CDC agency) found that even in a shop where 13 customers vaped during the day, the flavoring chemicals and formaldehyde measured in the air were all below the allowable exposure limits, and nicotine was practically absent from the samples.

Is secondhand vapor dangerous?

In Public Health England’s updated 2018 evidence review, the agency’s experts analyzed several new studies of passive exposure that had been published since the original 2015 PHE e-cig report. They concluded—again—that “to date there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders.”

Igor Burstyn’s study of the possible dangers of secondhand vaping attempted to “estimate potential exposures from aerosols produced by electronic cigarettes and compare those potential exposures to occupational exposure standards.” His conclusion: “Exposures of bystanders are likely to be orders of magnitude less, and thus pose no apparent concern.”

Orders of magnitude are multiples of 10. Therefore, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, and so on. What Burstyn means is that the exposure to toxic chemicals in secondhand vapor is so slight as to pose no real threat. Whatever the risk may be to the users themselves, it is 10 or 100, or even 1,000 or 10,000, times lower for the bystander.

Does that necessarily mean that vapers should feel free to vape everywhere without regard to the wishes of others? No!

Even if secondhand vaping can’t be proven harmful to others, the concerns of family and friends need to be respected. Obviously, if a spouse or visitor objects, vapers should be courteous and thoughtful, and take the vape outside. Clearly, if someone in the home has asthma or another respiratory condition, secondhand vape is best avoided, since we know PG and some flavorings can irritate the airways.

Children, of course, don’t get to make an informed choice about what they breathe, so vapers should use good judgement and be more cautious than they might be around adults. There are no secondhand vapor studies that specifically measure the lung functions of babies or young children after daily vape inhalation. Vapers shouldn’t experiment on their kids.


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Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (10)

(Video) Effect of second-hand fumes from vaping on young lungs

Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (11)

Jim McDonald

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy


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Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (13)


4 years ago

Thanks for the informative article. And especially thanks to the smart folks who invented vaping. I was dumb enough to start smoking when I was a teenager. Kept at it for over 20 years, and failed at quitting I don’t know how many times. Decided to grab an e-cig finally a while back once the technology started getting good, and it was one of the best moves I’ve ever made. Started out with a high nicotine liquid and slowly tapered down to no nicotine liquid. Stuck with that for a bit, and one day forgot my vape when I wentRead more »



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (14)

John Canary

4 years ago

I found this very useful! Thanks for taking the time to write this.


Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (15)


5 years ago

great article



(Video) The risks of second-hand vape smoke - NBC 15 WPMI

Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (16)


Jim McDonald

5 years ago

Reply toHolly



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (17)


4 years ago

Reply toJim McDonald

Reading the comments on this article was one laugh riot after another. It’s interesting to see how people react to an article citing facts as a tool for enabling addicts. I’m sorry to say, but if you’re related to or involved with someone who Vapes and they site articles like this to undermine you when you voice your discomfort, that particular vaper is a dick. But the reality is that while that vaper may be being an ass, that doesn’t invalidate what they’re saying or by extent the information source they’re using. Trying to correlate unrelated illnesses with the onsetRead more »



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (18)


7 months ago

(Video) Secondhand Nicotine Vaping Linked To Higher Risk Of Developing Bronchitis

Reply toRose

The article is biased and minimizes the negative effects of vaping to the vaporer & by stander. That stuff is dangerous!



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (19)


Jim McDonald

7 months ago

Reply toNon

Can you name some of the dangers—without using hypotheticals?



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (20)


2 months ago

Reply toJim McDonald

The only thing I hear from that last commenter is crickets. I’m sire they’re just gathering facts.



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (21)


3 years ago

Reply toRose

Also, in the spirit of lacking….add reading comprehension to your list

(Video) E-Cig Vapor Or Secondhand Smoke: Which Is Worse For You?



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (22)

Isiah Phillips

3 years ago

I am writing an essay on vaping versus cigarette smoking. How can I cite the information I’ve gotten from this article?
Thank you.



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (23)


Jim McDonald

3 years ago

Reply toIsiah Phillips

If you’re citing what I wrote, use quotes and attribute it to me. If you’re using the studies that are linked, attribute to those authors. Is that what you’re asking?



Should You Worry About Breathing Secondhand Vapor? (24)

Bill w

3 years ago

I’ll tell you what. The tobacco industry is very interested in vaping profits now. The vaping industry better get together, form a coalition against big tobacco ever getting further in the game, and hire some lobbyists. On another note, prices of vape juice(often the same exact brands and flavors) vary from $13-$20 and some up to $45 for 120ml bottles. At least two of those sites force you to accept one shipper that costs $8.50- $10 for 2-4 business-day shipping. And speaking from personal exp. they didn’t even ship mine til about 4 days after my order and that’s whenRead more »




Is it safe to breathe secondhand vape? ›

"Aerosols from vaping contain heavy metals and ultrafine particles," Islam said. "If somebody else is vaping in the same area, you're breathing it – those particles are entering your lungs, where they can do damage."

How long does second hand vape stay in the air? ›

While particles from conventional cigarette smoke linger in the air for upwards of 45 minutes, researchers found that those stemming from e-vapor products evaporate within seconds, even indoors.

How long does it take for second hand smoke to affect you? ›

Secondhand smoke exposure can produce harmful inflammatory and respiratory effects within 60 minutes of exposure which can last for at least three hours after exposure.

Does vape smoke stay in the air? ›

Secondhand vapor (which is technically an aerosol) is the vapor exhaled into the atmosphere by an e-cig user. Like secondhand smoke, it lingers in the air long enough that anyone in the same room (assuming the room is small enough) is likely to inhale some of the exhaled aerosol.

Can passive vaping harm you? ›

Is passive vaping harmful? There is no good evidence that second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes is harmful. As vapes are still relatively new, we can't be sure there aren't any long-term effects to people who breathe in someone else's vapour. But this is unlikely to be harmful.

How long does vape smoke stay in the room? ›

Even in a poorly ventilated area with windows shut, any smells from vaping should be gone in only ten minutes or so, instead of lasting around for hours like smoking. When one is vaping outdoors in comparison, the smell from your vape will hardly be noticeable at all and will disappear extremely quickly.

Are you allowed to vape indoors? ›

Yes, you can vape in public places. There is no law which forbids the use of vaping products in public places. However, rules on the use of e-cigarettes and vape products can be imposed by the setting which you are in.

Can second hand vape cause? ›

Secondhand vape exposure was associated with increased risk of bronchitic symptoms and shortness of breath in young adults, even after accounting for active smoking and vaping.

Is it safe to vape indoors? ›

Health harm

In contrast to the known harm from secondhand smoke, there's no evidence so far of harm to bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour. The many harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke are either not contained in e-cigarette vapour at all, or are usually found at much lower levels.

How do you get secondhand smoke out of your lungs? ›

There is no treatment for breathing in secondhand smoke. But there are ways to manage your exposure and treat conditions related to secondhand smoke inhalation. If you are regularly near secondhand smoke, you can reduce the danger by: Moving away from the smoker and finding a smoke-free place.

Is VAPE worse than smoking? ›

1: Vaping is less harmful than smoking, but it's still not safe. E-cigarettes heat nicotine (extracted from tobacco), flavorings and other chemicals to create an aerosol that you inhale. Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic.

Is second hand smoke worse than actually smoking? ›

because the secondhand smoke is already contaminated and you're inhaling it, and it's already contaminated by the person who is smoking. So, that's even worse, because you're being doubly contaminated, more than smoking it.

Can my baby get second-hand smoke from vaping? ›

Studies have found that second-hand exposure to vaping can raise nicotine levels in the bloodstream to rates similar to the levels found with second-hand smoke. Many of the e-cigarette chemicals that end up in the air your babies breathe are known to be toxic.

Does vaping make your house smell? ›

Some vaping products also produce odors that can be hard to remove. These smells may not be as strong as those caused by tobacco smoking; still, a shopper may notice odors while touring the home.

What happens if you accidentally inhale vape smoke? ›

The symptoms most often reported by young people and adults from vaping exposure included nausea, dizziness, abdominal pain, confusion, seizures and decreased breathing. Vaping can lead to serious lifelong health issues, including long-lasting and damaging effects on the brain and physical development for young adults.

How can I protect myself from secondhand smoke at home? ›

The Surgeon General has concluded that the only way to fully protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of secondhand smoke is through 100% smoke-free environments. Opening a window, sitting in a separate area, or using ventilation, air conditioning, or a fan cannot eliminate secondhand smoke exposure.

Can second hand vaping cause headaches? ›

For many people who have smell sensitivities or allergies, there can be adverse effects from the vapor. Common side effects are headaches and nausea, but can also cause respiratory distress and disease, according to a study from UC Riverside.

Can second hand vaping cause asthma? ›

Just like exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to secondhand aerosols from e-cigarettes is associated with an increased risk of asthma exacerbations in children, according to a review of the 11,830 kids with asthma in the 2016 Florida Youth Tobacco survey.

Can hotels tell if you vape in the room? ›

Can hotels tell if you vape in the hotel room? Well, sort of. Non-smoking hotel rooms have smoke detectors that will be set off by vaping. However, if you are determined to do it anyway, the bathroom is the best spot to avoid getting caught.

Does vaping stain teeth? ›

Can Vaping Stain Teeth? Much like smoking, vaping can make your teeth yellow. Nicotine in e-cigarettes can cause teeth to become deeply stained.

Can I vape around my child? ›

It's not safe to use vape pens or e-cigarette devices around kids. The vapor from e-cigarettes has chemicals in it that can be harmful to kids. There's another serious problem with e-smoking devices: Kids can get poisoned if they drink the liquid in nicotine delivery devices or refills.

Does vaping set off smoke alarms? ›

Vaping shouldn't generally trigger a smoke or fire alarm, but it does happen sometimes. Most smoke alarms may well be completely fine with you vaping around them, but if you happen across one which detects the particle change or broken light beam means you are going to hear that ringing bell.

Is second hand vape worse than first hand? ›

Secondhand Vape Exposure May Be Worse Than Firsthand Exposure for Respiratory Symptoms in Youth. Secondhand nicotine vape exposure may increase the risk for bronchitic symptoms and shortness of breath in young adults, according to the results of a recent study.

Does vaping cause damage to homes? ›

Vaping residue can create a thin layer that allows dust to stick and accumulate over most of the interior space. Over time, this can result in ductwork that is extremely dirty, aggravating allergies and making the entire home harder to clean.

Can you survive second hand smoke? ›

There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can cause serious health problems and be deadly. Completely eliminating smoking is the only way to fully protect people who do not smoke from secondhand smoke exposure.

How do you test air for secondhand smoke? ›

An indoor air quality consultant can collect an air sample onto a thermal desorption tube to detect the presence of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). This specific test measures the presence of three ETS markers: 2,5-Dimethylfuran, 3-Ethenylpyridine, and nicotine.

What absorbs second hand smoke? ›

Baking soda and activated charcoal: Sprinkling either baking soda or activated charcoal powder (sold at pet stores) can remove cigarette odors just as it can mildew smells.

Can your dentist tell if you vape? ›

Ways Your Dentist Can Tell You Smoke or Vape

These can include: Bad breath (halitosis) Dry mouth. Yellow or brown nicotine stains on your teeth and tongue.

What are 5 risks of vaping? ›

What are the dangers of vaping?
  • Asthma. Vaping can make you more likely to get asthma and other lung conditions. ...
  • Lung scarring. ...
  • Organ damage. ...
  • EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury). ...
  • Addiction. ...
  • Cigarette smoking. ...
  • Second-hand exposure. ...
  • Explosions.
Aug 22, 2022

How many puffs of a vape is equal to a cigarette? ›

When we transfer it into puffs on average, it means that you will have to take 500 hits of vape to smoke as much nicotine as you would with a single cigarette. This is a big difference in nicotine intake! Bear in mind that there are e-juices with even less nicotine.

How do I deal with secondhand smoke in my apartment? ›

Talk with your landlord/property manager about the secondhand smoke problem in your apartment.
  1. An in person meeting or written communication is better, keep a record of all communications in case it is needed later.
  2. Be calm, polite, stick to the issue, and ask what solutions might be available.
Nov 17, 2022

Is secondhand vape worse? ›

Secondhand exposure to e-cigarette vapor is said to be less toxic than secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke. However, secondhand vapor is still a form of air pollution that probably poses health risks.

Can the smell of cigarette smoke on clothes be harmful? ›

A new study determined the residue from tobacco smoke that makes clothing and other items smell even after cigarettes or other products have been put out can have dangerous health effects. Third-hand smoke, as the study describes it, can carry toxic substances such as nicotine — and then release them elsewhere.

How can you tell if your house is vaping? ›

Signs a person is vaping
  • A sweet scent in the air. ...
  • Unfamiliar pens and USB drives. ...
  • Drinking more water. ...
  • Nosebleeds. ...
  • Smoker's cough or mouth sores. ...
  • New batteries and chargers. ...
  • Discarded vaping pods and devices. ...
  • How bad is vaping?
Sep 16, 2022

Does vaping stick to walls? ›

The short answer is, yes. Over time, vaping inside of the home will lead to yellow residue stains on walls and furniture.

Does vaping damage walls? ›

So does vaping damage walls? The short answer is yes, it does have the potential to cause staining. However, with that said, as people vape to help them quit smoking, it's beneficial to also look at the damage caused by smoking.

Will 2nd hand smoke show up on a nicotine test? ›

If you use nicotine replacement medicine, such as gum or a patch, the cotinine test will not give an accurate result. Breathing in secondhand smoke can also affect the result. If you haven't smoked or been exposed to nicotine in 7 to 10 days, your cotinine levels start to return to a normal level.

How long does it take for vape smoke to dissipate indoors? ›

However, for e-vapour products the particle concentration returned to background values within a few seconds; for conventional cigarettes it increased with successive puffs, only returning to background levels after 30-45 minutes.

How do you prove second hand smoke? ›

Secondhand smoke exposure can be measured. This is done by testing indoor air for chemicals found in tobacco smoke, such as nicotine. Your healthcare provider can also test your own level of exposure. This is done by testing the level of cotinine in your blood, saliva, or urine.

What are the symptoms of second hand smoke? ›

Chemicals and toxins in commercial tobacco smoke

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, middle ear disease, more frequent and severe asthma, respiratory symptoms, and slowed lung growth.

Can secondhand smoke cause positive cotinine? ›

Among the participants who reported exposure to second-hand smoke, 4.8% (12 of 249) had cotinine levels of ≥ 40 ng/mL (positive urinary cotinine level), whereas 98.8% (161 of 163) of those who reported no exposure had cotinine levels of < 40 ng/mL (negative urinary cotinine level), and the kappa value was 0.029 (p = ...

Can my baby get second hand smoke from vaping? ›

Studies have found that second-hand exposure to vaping can raise nicotine levels in the bloodstream to rates similar to the levels found with second-hand smoke. Many of the e-cigarette chemicals that end up in the air your babies breathe are known to be toxic.


1. 1 In 3 Teens Breathe Secondhand E-Cigarette Vapors, Study Says
(CBS Boston)
2. What Vaping Does to the Body
(Institute of Human Anatomy)
3. Second Hand Tobacco Smoke Sample Video - English
4. E-Cigarette vapor: Is it more harmful than second-hand smoke?
(12 News)
5. Will secondhand marijuana smoke cause you to fail your drug test?
(Easy DOT Physicals)
6. What is Secondhand Smoke?
(Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center)
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